Juvenile justice remains some sort of a legal fiction in West Bengal. The new Juvenile Justice Act became law in April 2000, but very little has been done by the state to put the improvements into action. (Not that the old law was treated any differently.) The most recent instance of the state’s apathy to children — particularly the most vulnerable ones — is the case of the couple who had taken in a baby abandoned at their doorstep, and are now trying to legalize their claim over the child. The whole process is turning out to be fraught with every kind of confusion and harassment. Hospital authorities, the police and advisory bodies are all now part of a befuddling system that seems to obstruct every humane attempt at protecting an abandoned baby. The “caretaker parents” are now fearing the possibility of having to hand the child over to a government whose foster care facilities do not inspire much confidence.
Judicial inertia, lack of political will and inhuman social attitudes are at the root of this evil. The Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act was reframed in 2000, with the explicit directive to all states to set up juvenile welfare boards for its proper implementation. West Bengal has not managed to set this up yet, and any enquiry regarding this gets the usual bureaucratic response of jaded indifference and the vaguest of promises. Adoption is only one of the judicial processes involving children which the new act sought to facilitate with the help of the welfare board. There is a huge backlog of cases involving minors in the state’s various courts, which fills up the existing remand, foster care and observation homes kept by the government in the most pitiful conditions of overcrowding and all its resultant ills. Juvenile offenders, abandoned or mentally unstable children, and all kinds of children requiring urgent and specialized care are holed up together in these institutions simply because the courts cannot clear the cases involving them quickly enough. Neither has the state made much effort in using the new act to deal with child labour, trafficking and sexual exploitation, to name only a few practices leading to the abuse of children. The harassment faced by this couple for wanting to adopt an abandoned baby is only one of the many ways in which the state continues to brutalize children and those who want to protect them.